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Opinions Sun, 13 Jul 2008

The Nduom Encounter & Student Leadership

Whatever Dr. Nduom’s plusses or minuses were on Wednesday, the platform presented by the Institute of Economic Affairs under the Ghana Political Parties Programme is a success in our democratic political journey worth celebrating.

Certainly this is not the first time we have tried our hands on a Presidential encounter/debate of sorts since we restarted our journey in 1992 and yet it would appear that this is the first one to enjoy the mass support and active participation of all the major players. Hitherto, one party or the other has been known to boycott an encounter often with variable political repercussions. This new approach of total engagement is therefore both most refreshing and welcome.

Of course the encounter is not a debate, at least not in the traditional sense that we know a debate that features all candidates on one platform to engage in a contest of ideas. In this initial IEA Encounter, Dr. Nduom made a thirty minute presentation followed by questions from a cross-section of the Ghanaian society drawn from labour, professional groups, civil society and the press all to a live television and radio audience. To his credit however, his campaign strategist made the point of reiterating Nduom’s call for full-blown “debate(s) with all the candidates”. This call was hardly surprising since in most instances, the aggressive rear-guard action has often typified the dealings of the underdog and Nduom is the underdog in this contest and a very brave one at that.

At Alisa last Wednesday, he cut the figure of a cool, calm and collected

Presidential candidate who was sure he was in to upset his better established opponents. He also strategically tried to position himself as the change candidate. Along these lines he adopted unambiguous positions on the much-debated issues of voting for local governance officials from District through to Municipal Assembly as a means of demanding better accountability while pledging to separate the roles of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice among others.

Better still he pledged to conduct his business with a sense of urgency under a leadership that made a difference. It was also obvious that to Nduom’s campaign team, the fact of his personal accomplishments both in his private and public lives constitute proud reference points. It perhaps explains why on more than one occasion, Dr. Nduom would challenge his opponents by calling on the good people of Ghana to closely examine the individual achievements of others while asking whether they had the track record to deliver on the things they promised. It is also why he is so confident that when they shout Edwumawura (Employer) and respond with Yere sesamu (We are going to change), it really is the Flagstaff House that beckons.

All in all, it was a good delivery.

The flip-side however was seen when the questions started flying. A lot of the questions clearly exposed the lack of a how –to- reach the Promised Land. In some cases, it showed that Nduom’s homework had perhaps not been thorough which is perhaps why when Kweku Sakyi-Addo asked about the cost of the emphasis on education, Dr. Nduom would cleverly prefer to dwell on the cost of energy. When pressed, he would add that “I have been in government and the money is there!”

In fact before he releases the bombshell, Nduom points out that our problems are not primarily due to a lack of money because, “the money is there!” And then he adds that way back in 2001, while the NPP government was lamenting the dearth of resources in the consolidated fund, a lot of money sourced by the NDC government for various projects was actually sitting there. So according to Nduom, there was money, the money was there!

Secondly, for such a major policy speech, it was remarkable for its silence on health. I would have thought that issues of health, education and the economy would automatically constitute major talking points. When asked specifically how seeing his passion for social justice, he would address the inequitable distribution of health professionals most of whom were concentrated in the big cities to the disadvantage of the districts in the light of increasing work load from District Health Insurance and in a comprehensive manner that took the interests of both healthcare professionals and Ghanaians on board, his answer was at best wooly.

Thirdly, Dr. Nduom demonstrated a poor ability to link up the achievements of the CPP government as at 1966 to his own development plan in 2008. This was brought out most clearly by questions on how he would address the accommodation crises in our universities or whether he had any intentions of boosting past international agreements gleefully signed by Ghana on gender and women’s issues and specifically what percentage of women his cabinet would be composed of.

To each of these questions, Dr. Nduom would refer us to the proud past record of Dr. Nkrumah’s CPP as far as infrastructural development in education was concerned. He would also talk about Nkrumah’s appointment of female ministers etc but sadly, he would leave it there. It had been my expectation that he would find an interesting way of linking a proud past to a promising future but that was not to be.

All in all as I have alluded to earlier, democracy was the better for the encounter. As some have said earlier, the caliber of our presidential candidates themselves, their posturing on issues so far, the blood-thirsty demand of numerous groups, think thanks, academia, media etc for an issues-focused campaign are all combining in an interesting way to elevate the quality of the contest.

Moved a step further, I am left with the sneaking suspicion however that when it comes to the matter of politicking on the issues that make a difference to our people and electing our leaders on that basis, student politics is a step ahead of our national politics. In more ways than one, there is a lot that national politics may learn from student politics. Looking at our political history, it is clear that student politics and some student politicians have been through fire in their proud quest to contribute their quota to national political discourse. While the cost has often been great, perhaps the unintended outcome has been the establishment of better systems of campaigning, identifying the driving issues, better lobbying, holding their leaders accountable etc

Today as we speak, no tertiary student leader would even think of mounting a campaign without clearly mapping out issues on which to win the people’s support. They have been through house to house, room to room person to person door to door. Way before the political parties could even think of vetting their candidates, tertiary student leadership had long set up functional vetting committees which had sufficient power to disqualify an aspirant on one constitutional clause or the other. If the debarred aspirant felt sufficiently aggrieved and unfairly treated, he would seek relief through established student appeal channels. Not appeased by their final ruling, the student aspirant would not hesitate to seek relief in a court of law, perhaps one of laying an injunction on the entire election- the point being that the students have developed a system which they respect.

In many ways, student leaders demonstrate that the constitutions with which they govern are living and active documents and this through the rigid enforcement of its tenets by both the ruled and the often highly-enlightened student body who are unforgiving in their demand for accountability. Typically a student leadership accused of financial misappropriation etc may desire to ram through a hurried handing over ceremony in the hope that this would quell the agitation. Unknown to them, a group would have spent hours studying the constitution cover to cover and rallying support for any identified breeches.

On the handing over day, a tiny looking boy with a big head and a shrill voice would raise his hands up in plenary on a point of order. He would say that you are in breech of the constitution since the supreme law demands that you submit audited accounts before you hand over. A passionate and flamboyant argument will then ensue and the issue would then be subjected to a vote. Before your very eyes, your handing-over would be suspended and you would have to submit your accounts for auditing before you can wear your political suit again!

The above is also the reason why many student leaders are very sharp and quick-thinking on their feet in addition to knowing how to engage even with their sworn opponents. When it comes to public speech making, they are often peerless, delivering spirited speeches off-the-cuff punctuated with flamboyantly mesmerizing quotations.

Today, I doff my hat off to the IEA, Nduom and to Ghanaian student leaders who have made and continue to make a difference.

Sodzi Sodzi-Tettey

sodzitettey@gmail.com

Columnist: Sodzi-Tettey, Sodzi